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US air base in Kyrgyzstan says starts to close

A US air base in Kyrgyzstan, used as a hub for operations in Afghanistan, has started to shut down and will close by mid-August as ordered by the Central Asian state, its new commander said today.

The ex-Soviet republic gave the United States six months from February to shut the Manas air base, but US officials have expressed hope Kyrgyzstan could still change its mind.

Speaking to reporters after taking over as the new commander at the base, Colonel Christopher Bence said the facility had started to wind down operations.

"We have started shipping equipment and supplies to other locations," he told reporters after a change-of-command ceremony at the base outside the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.

Asked when US forced would leave, he added: "On Aug. 18 as the Kyrgyz government has asked us."

Kyrgyzstan announced its decision to close Manas after securing pledges of US$2 billion in aid and credit from Russia, which operates its own air base in the mainly Muslim nation.

While repeating that its decision was final, Kyrgyzstan has shown more flexibility on the issue in past weeks, stressing the need to increase cooperation over Afghanistan at a time when regional instability is on the rise.

In the strongest sign yet that there might be room for change, Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev said last week he would consider new ways of expanding ties with the United States after receiving a personal letter from President Barack Obama.


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